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The Hospitality of People!

Sa Pa, Vietnam

This entry is all about the 5 days and 5 nights i spent on adventure into the heart of North Western Viet Nam with Thai Thinh and his old moto bike from the streets of Hanoi. 1000km and back with barely a rucksack between us and a handful of dong!!!

We left for the mountains the morining after the trip had been confirmed, so from a farewell to the Aussie guys it was an 8am departure and a quick stop to pay the policeman 50,000 dong for jumping a traffic signal!

The first day was strange, because looking back on it not much happened. However on the day it seemed like so much did, it must have been the small things and the fact that together on this bike we were setting off on an adventure. We climbed slowly into the mountains and the temperature dropped along with the visibility as the mist came in. We were treated to a few spectacular views and the first real meeting with people not so used to Western persons. The food became more rural and the buildings more understandable. Either they were rich, built narrowly into the sky and made of brick or they were poor and made of wood, some being little more than a shack. We started to see the appearance of different industry too, with brick making, rock excavation and farming! The means of transport also became more simple, very few cars, lots of trucks, many more mopeds and a few filled buses.

The highlight of the day was by far our final destination though. Staying in a tribal homestay with some friends of Thai Thinh i was treated to an extra special experience and lesson in Vietnamese culture. Basically if i had made it to this place alone i could have stayed in a large room for tourism and guests. Instead i was treated to a different large room where the family would actually be with friends etc. What this meant is that i would be the guest of Hom the owner along with Thai Thinh. We ate incredible food (Toffu especially) cooked by his wife and drank rice wine with every other piece of main dish food.
This experience is best described as being like a buffet but one where you are not allowed rice until you finish drinking rice wine, you are not allowed to do this until the host stops drinking!!! Think you know whats came next, a bit of a drunken time with these tribal villagers playing cards and getting used to the fact you were not just anywhere!!! I taught the young lad to juggle and so impressed with his progression i gave him the juggling balls in return for a small woven basket.
Then it was retirment to the area under my mosquito net and a good night sleep! In the morning i had the first of many of the best coffees i have ever had and enjoyed a somewhat beautiful view over the paddy fields watching the locals start work.

As we enjoyed cruising along on day two it was clear that the weather was starting to clear and the sun starting to shine. We also met the first of the many children finishing school and walking the roads home. Literally every village was connected by the roads we were travelling and the people would walk or cycle miles. The first of many high fives were given and the faces of the people and there dress became more colourful.
The homestay was good but now we were starting to see some really rural people and places. The animals also started to become more plentiful, as usual, dogs, kittens, water buffalo, chickens, geese, pigs and many others sat by or sat in the road as we passed by. The fields were greener and the scenery ever more amazing!

By the road people would sell everything and here you can see how i got on selling cucumbers. This lady was joined by us and then the two ladies either side came to see us and then more and finally a small crowd. Some had never seen pictures of themselves and certainly possessed none either so we took some pictures and had then printed out in the next large town and sent back by local post, another advantage of being with Thai Thinh! I tried my best with no fear selling the cucumbers to passing trucks and mopeds, the looks i got back were memorable from happy waves to completely stunned faces!

That night we settled in a larger town and in a small hotel Thai Thinh knew. We got the pictures sorted and had a meal before i bought two large bottles of Beer Hoi, forgetting Thai Thinh does not drink alcohol. So i invited the lad off reception to join me on the sofa in the foye/garage type reception area watching some local TV favourite! Then a strange thing happened, i noticed a fat Vietnamese man walk in and remembered something Thai Thinh ha said earlier that day "a fat Vietnamese man is a rich Vietnamese person!" , then i returned to watching TV. All of a sudden Thai Thinh came down from the room (it's 11.30pm, late in Viet Nam) and spoke with the fat man. He turned out to be the hotel owner and he was inviting me out for drinks with him to a place only rich locals must frequent. I must go with him and on his moped only as mark of respect and so it was...

At the place we enjoyed a bottle of Vodka, a few things to eat, the best and strongest coffee in Viet Nam apparently and proven to me (number 9) and finally a great conversation. No speak of business which surprised me just as friends. Should i visit next time i must joiun earlier and drink properly with this man i was told, even though i did a good job in the time i had! He welcomed me to revisit before inviting me to join for the best noodle soup on Viet Nam the followng morning! Unable to refuse this hospitality i accepted and went home again on the back of his moped. We said bye and i played Futco (like keepy-up football but witha strange badmington like device) with the lad from reception and others. The drink was taking hold and i was playing one followed by the other and then another and so on... so funny though! Sin Loi! ;)

Bed time and day three began with noodle soup in a cafe joint filled with either policemen in unifrom or rich locals from the town. Our host showed us his other much larger hotel before ordering the special noodle soup from the menu. A somewhat drunken cafe owner then pleaded for my opinion in Vietnamese and Thai Thinh did his best to explain, t was superb and truly it really was! A good starter for the day on the road. The owner then invited me across the road for coffeee in his office where i was lucky enough to be treated to a few karaoke dvd's worth of some American country band! It was so funny but again the coffee was excellent! It was strange to see that his printer would have been a hit in the UK in 1988 but here it was a symbol of position. Surely this man can afford to buy the latest printer, confusion began... Anyway time to say bye and hit the road!

Day three was about the police again, having been pulled over (nearly) again and having seen many locals by the side of the road with an impecably dressed cream officer. I spoke to Thai Thinh about things and it became clear of the gulf and corruption involved between the classes. Basically the houses are different and the jeeps exist because the policeman represent the rich classes. They stop you and if you argue they raise the price of your impending payment. Nobody argues and their houses get bigger! The money doesn't go towards local improvement it merely lines the pockets of the individuals lucky enough to be born into the right family. They even have their own blue or red colour number plate which lets them do more than ordinary people who may be lucky enough to own a car. If you have a red one you can even jump lights and park in the middle of the road!

Worse than this it is well know n you pay to be a policeman and can be a poor but good candidate and get paid out! It really is sad to witness how these people are literally repressed by a ruling class and its true! You can't have a car practically due to the cost of paying off the people to own it. But of course a policeman can...

Anyway i also got to see that dogs really are part of the staple diet in these parts too, look carefully above and you will see a couple of them and some chickens in this picture. Dog meat is very expensive but it is disturbing for me to think of all those rough street dogs along the way and then lunch. Which this time gave me the pleasure of whole small fish much like eating crisps and tasty too! Don't worry no dog on the menu.

permalink written by  50watts on March 9, 2006 from Sa Pa, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Ending 2005 and Starting 2006
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I'm half-maltese, half-english, living in France, having met my girlfriend while on my first Blogabond adventure [way back].

I am trying to pass the rest of my life continuing to travel and to make things happen as someone once said.

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